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Although the Queen’s Speech contains some things that we can welcome, it shows overall that the Government, having lost credibility, have now lost momentum. Just as DEFRA has proved incapable of hitting any of the targets it set itself, so the
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Government will fail to meet their final target—the only one they have ever really cared about—at the next general election.

9.45 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): I am pleased to have the chance to wind up this important debate. Local government and the environment may not seem like natural partners but there are important linkages between their work: local authority leadership in promoting green space and in waste collection and disposal; local authority procurement and its impact on its own carbon footprint; and the ability to chart a course to lower carbon living, which is the aim of an increasing number of local authorities that have signed up to the Nottingham declaration and are linking up with local state and regional governments around the world to tackle global warming.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall use my speech to respond to the debate and, I hope, to share with the House my conclusions after the UN climate conference in Nairobi last week, which took some important steps in the battle against climate change and set the stage for further discussions about a global emissions reduction plan. However, in my view, it showed the gap between the scientific and economic evidence of the need for action and the fragmented and disjointed nature of global governance.

We have heard a series of passionate, heavyweight and well-informed speeches; I associate myself entirely with the remarks of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) about their quality. There were 28 speeches in all, and I shall not be able to cover the concerns of my old friend, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), about the human tissue Bill, or of my even older friend, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman)—who is no longer in his place, such a good friend is he—about immigration, or of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) about drug treatment. However, I want to highlight a few issues.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) and my hon. Friends the Members for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), for Huddersfield, for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) and for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) all called for a sensible approach to targets. They understood the difference between annual reporting and annual targets—an issue to which I will return in a few minutes. I also noticed the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford and the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) for new technologies. I will not end the career of the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) by saying anything nice about him, but he said something interesting about product regulation. My hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) and for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) spoke knowledgeably about the need to cut emissions from housing.

There was a common theme in all the contributions, however, which was summed up by my hon. Friend the
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Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) who explained that voluntarism is not enough; it takes regulation, investment, trading mechanisms and fiscal policy to make a difference. I recognise that many Members, including the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), the right hon. Member for Fylde and my hon. Friends the Members for Scunthorpe, for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) and for Huddersfield, expressed a desire for a marine Bill and for progress on that important issue. As I explained at questions just before Prorogation, we are determined to make progress on the matter. The complications arise from a difficult set of issues to do with the devolution settlement, as my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe knows, but we will be making further policy proposals in due course.

I wish I had been in the Chamber for the contribution of one my oldest friends—I knew him at university—the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field). In a very good-natured debate, he managed to offend absolutely everybody. He offended all the Londoners present by attacking the “whim” of the Olympics. He attacked scientists by saying that climate change was a hoax—or words to that effect; and he even managed to offend his own leader by coming out in favour of nuclear power. That may not be a sensible career course, but there is a rumour on the Labour Benches that the hon. Gentleman has been reshuffled, which I am sad to hear. It suggests that the sensible tendency in the Tory party is no longer in control.

The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) was a lone voice speaking up for the creation of a Mayor of London. He will remember that in 1997 there was no London-wide government, but the hon. Members for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) and for Cities of London and Westminster clearly hope to get rid of the Mayor of London in the future. But today, there is a Mayor, and he and future mayors will have more power under this Government, while preserving the balance of borough, city-wide and national power that lies at the heart of the 1997 settlement.

My hon. Friends the Members for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby), for Plymouth, Sutton and for Hove (Ms Barlow) have all been passionate advocates of the role of local government in national life for a very long time. They will remember that, in 1997, there was no local government power of prudential borrowing, no provision for elected mayors and no delivery contract between local and central Government, which lies at the heart of local area agreements. From next year, those new powers will have added to them the power for citizens to hold services to account, new structures, including directly elected executives, and a streamlined accountability system.

All hon. Members will remember that the last Government reorganised local government but in a way that caused most people to hate the process and that ended up in a half-baked outcome. In the Government’s view, rural England needs effective structures of political representation, real strategic leadership at county level and genuine neighbourhood representation at local level. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has invited local proposals to reform the two-tier system, not imposed a national plan. She has
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sought to support local leadership, not to squash it. I was the very interested in the comments about the benefits of unitary status made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Patrick Hall).

The Leader of the Opposition promised never to oppose for the sake of it, but we are presented with the utterly bizarre spectacle of the Opposition seeking to deny to local people in rural England the right to propose practical locally designed plans to improve democracy and save money. It does not sound like a new Tory party to me.

I agree with the hon. Member for East Surrey that the debate about climate change has reached a new intensity since the last Queen’s Speech, 18 months ago. My summary is that the science is now overwhelming, the economics is now clear, thanks to the pioneering work of Sir Nicholas Stern, and the politics, notably internationally, now needs to come into its own.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with the Opposition’s agreement—I will make a written statement on this tomorrow—may I set out a few of the conclusions of the climate change talks last week? We went to Nairobi with three clear tests for the talks, the first of which was on adaptation, especially in Africa. Last Monday, I flew to Turkana in northern Kenya, near the Ugandan border. I met pastoralist farmers, herdsmen and women, who told me about walks —[ Interruption. ] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) is mumbling from a sedentary position. He has a perfectly creditable record on this issue, and he does not need to talk it down. They told me about walks to water stretching to two, three and four hours. Those people and others like them need help in adapting to climate change now, and they need it not just through reform in their own countries, but through help from the outside world. I saw a Department for International Development project that was bringing water within reach, with new boreholes and new water supplies, giving those people the ability to forge an economic livelihood for themselves because they were not searching for water.

The UN conference last week offered more hope in three ways: a five-year action plan agreed by the international community, major steps towards an adaptation fund and Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General launched a UN drive to carbon-proof overseas development assistance. In this country, that is the course set out in the White Paper presented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development last July. Our aids budget, which totalled £2.2 billion in 1997 and is now worth £5 billion, will therefore support development that anticipates and tries to prevent climate risks.

The second outcome was the promotion of global flows of capital to support technology transfer. There was some progress—for instance, on making the clean development mechanism work for Africa. The CDM plays an important role in helping to spread low-carbon solutions, and we therefore welcome Kofi Annan’s announcement of a new plan to bring together UN, bilateral and multilateral agencies to dismantle the barriers to clean energy investment in Africa.

The third test of the conference concerns the momentum towards global negotiations on greenhouse gas emissions. The UK’s position is clear, and I think that I am right in saying that it is supported across the
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House. First, there must be global agreement in time to ensure that there is no gap between the first commitment period, which ends in 2012, and new commitments for the second period. Secondly, we believe that the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities is paramount. Richer countries must take the lead, but all countries have a part to play. Thirdly, the conclusions of the ad hoc working group on developed country targets, set up in Montreal last year, is important: it commits the international community to avoiding a gap after 2012, but it also talks of global emissions reductions and therefore the role of all countries.

Mr. Jack: In the light of the international picture on climate change and the national picture, which we have discussed in the debate, will the Secretary of State now give an undertaking to consider changing the energy White Paper into a climate change White Paper to encompass all aspects of this matter?

David Miliband: The right hon. Gentleman will know that when the energy review was published last June, two themes were at its heart. One was energy security and the other was environmental improvement. Running through that review was the need to improve our performance on greenhouse gas emissions. By definition, climate issues will necessarily be at the heart of any Bill to tackle energy.

I was saying that the review of the operation of article 9 of the Kyoto protocol was also important. It is not a negotiation, so it does not set targets, but it will conclude by 2008. According to most experts, that gives us an extra year in which to conclude global climate change negotiations. The UK will contribute with enthusiasm and commitment to all that work and 2007 will be an absolutely key year with the German G8 presidency, a new UN Secretary-General and the next conference of the parties in Bali, when final negotiations should be launched.

The leadership of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary was widely recognised at Nairobi and the Stern review has had enormous impact around the world—in developed countries, but also in the developing world. Our climate change Bill will be a European first and, as the Prime Minister set out last Wednesday, will have four elements. It will put into statute the Government’s long-term goal of a 60 per cent. reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

Martin Horwood: Why will the Secretary of State not accept the need to include annual targets in the Bill? The Department of Trade and Industry corrects its statistics for energy use on a monthly basis according to temperature, so why cannot DEFRA do the same for climate change emissions?

David Miliband: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall return to that in a few moments.

Secondly, the Bill will establish an independent body, the carbon committee, to work with the Government to reduce emissions over time. It will create enabling powers to put in place new emissions reduction measures and it will improve monitoring and reporting arrangements—including how the Government report to Parliament.

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It is important for the House to remember that, as a result of the Bill introduced last year by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), we already have a commitment to annual reporting and debate in legislation. We do not support binding annual targets. That was the difference between us and the Opposition when I left for Nairobi. I have with me a Bill published by the Conservative party on 25 October and part 3 refers to “binding annual targets”. However, something seems to have moved on while I was away. In the new Bill, re-presented last week, on 14 November, part 3 is now about the responsibility of the commission to set targets.

In addition to the four different Conservative positions cited by the Prime Minister last week, I can also advise the House on the contents of the Conservative research department’s briefing on the Queen’s Speech. On the subject of binding annual targets, it says— [Interruption.] Conservative Front Benchers would do better to listen to what I am saying. Mr. Speaker will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that he is well occupied at the moment.

The Conservative research department document starts by saying that year-on-year targets are essential to reduce emissions. It goes on to say, in respect of annual targets, that it does not expect the Government to meet them precisely each year. Instead, it proposes rolling targets. The binding commitments are, in fact, “rolling” and the targets are changed annually, not hit annually— [Interruption.] The hon. Member for East Surrey, who speaks for the Conservative party on the issue, is passionate and knowledgeable. He knows the difference and I think that he must have blanched when he tried to explain on the “Today” programme last week how he could at the same time be in favour of both binding targets and rolling ones.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: I did not blanche at all. Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether carbon emissions have risen or fallen under his Government?

David Miliband: I can tell him very clearly that carbon emissions have risen by 1.5 per cent. and that greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 7 per cent. while the economy has grown by 25 per cent. For the first time in our industrial history— [Interruption.] Opposition Members do not like hearing it, but it is true. For the first time in our history, our economy has grown by 25 per cent. and our greenhouse emissions have fallen by 7 per cent. The Government have broken the link between carbon and economic growth.

The Government’s climate change Bill will provide businesses and citizens, as well as Governments, with a clear framework for future action. The Gracious Speech is driven by the values of the Government and by the country’s needs. Those values are vital in the battle against climate change. Social justice is vital because the value of a life in Nairobi is of no less value than a life in Nottingham. Internationalism is vital because we know that global problems need global solutions. Solidarity is vital because we have duties to others apart from ourselves. We also have a commitment to empowerment because
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the Government need the vitality of business and the strength of individuals if they are to achieve change.

I look forward to further debate in the month ahead. Above all, I look forward to further action on the basis of the Queen’s Speech.

Debate adjourned.— [Steve McCabe.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.


High Road Benfleet

10 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I wish to present a petition bearing the signatures of more than 1,000 supporters. The signatures were collected by worthy and caring local campaigners, including Mr. Brian Keeler, and the petition is signed by residents who object to the proposed demolition of the parade of shops opposite the historic St. Mary’s church in High road, Benfleet, to make way for a new block of four shops with six one-bed and nine two-bed flats in a two-storey development above the shops, with underground parking.

The grounds given include unacceptable access and insufficient parking arrangements, especially for visitors to those new properties and shops. Consequently, the shops and public will suffer. The bulk of the proposed building would be unacceptably detrimental to the street scene in that sensitive position around the conservation area and put unacceptable additional stress on the existing infrastructure at a sensitive point on the highway. There are many other valid planning reasons, which the Member of Parliament and the previous council member for the ward set out in their objections to an earlier—rightly rejected—application.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Blandford Camp

10.1 pm

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): I wish to present a petition on behalf of the residents of North Dorset and those of surrounding constituencies. I am grateful for the presence of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), whose constituents are also affected by the subject of the petition.

The petition concerns the Defence College for Communication and Information Systems, which is located at Blandford camp. Blandford camp has been associated with military communications for more than 200 years and the defence college grew out of the Royal
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School of Signals and the Royal Corps of Signals, which were established there. Under the Government’s defence training review, the two commercial bidders for the private finance initiative plan to relocate defence training to one of two sites, either in the west midlands or south Wales. The current college is worth approximately £300 million to the local economy and employs 3,000 people. The petition has been signed by 4,428 local residents.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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